Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
What is it about horse girls? If you've ever met one, you know that they seem really obsessed with being at the barn! In fact, I get told by parents on almost a weekly basis that their daughter would like to just live at the barn if she could! They don't have to be riding, they just want to be there. They clean up poop, they walk for hours leading others for pony rides, they help others catch and clean their horse, they feed horses, they do whatever is needed, and all with a smile on their face.
In fact, there are many adults at the barn that are still like this, helping clean-up and secretly filling our first-aid and horse care supplies or bathroom toiletries when I'm not looking. Parents that come and want to sweep or help muck stalls while their kids ride. It is an environment where everyone can see that there is always work to be done and they want to be part of it. They want to help the horses and the staff and they want to be part of the barn community.
And that's what it is, a barn community. It's something that just happens when you get a group of people with the same passion together. And it's now been included as a part of the reason why horses and being around horses can have such a therapeutic effect on people.
In Temple Grandin's research paper on her experience with horses as a youth, she stats that is was the barn environment, and not so much the riding in her case, that changed her life and gave her the life skills she was lacking. As a young girl with Autism, she credits the barn environment to her success today as a University Professor. You can read the scientific paper here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6650820/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6650820/
And I can say that I have first hand witnessed this experience too, along with many parents who will chime in and say the same. I have one parent in particular who told me that before doing riding lessons, her daughter was having a really hard time at school, and had a hard time making friends. In fact she was even in therapy to try to help with her social issues at school. Little did this mom know that the first round of lessons in the Intro Program at Sagehill would change her daughters life forever. Yes, she loved the riding and the horses. But it was the friendships made and barn life that made the difference for her. The mom says now she wished she had tried riding sooner as it is a lot cheaper than talk therapy!
This is just one of the many similar stories I have heard. Every year I have parents pull me aside and say how grateful they are that their daughters can come and volunteer and have a place they feel at home. The students might not be the same age, they might not go to the same schools or live in the same neighborhoods. But they have one thing in common - horses. I believe that because this sport focuses on the care of the horse, before the rider themselves, that it makes a strong bond between students both in and out of the arena. They cheer each other on, help them with their horses when they are having trouble and they grow and learn together.
It is a special place, one that will stay in peoples hearts forever. We still get people coming back to the barn saying I remember having my birthday here or taking lessons here as a child... The crazy thing is that this is just one of the many therapeutic benefits of horseback riding lessons!